After months of weighing what needs to change in Austin’s governing structure, a Charter Review Commission has answers. The commission will recommend eight major changes to the city charter that City Council members could add to the general election ballot in November.
The proposals range from creating a new public finance system for City Council candidates to revamping the ways Austinites can overturn government actions:
This amendment, modeled after a first-of-its-kind program in Seattle, would mail up to $100 in vouchers to each registered voter within the city. Voters could redeem the vouchers to donate $50 to a candidate for City Council in their districts and $50 to a candidate for mayor. To be eligible for the vouchers, candidates would have to demonstrate grass-roots support by first collecting signatures from 400 people who already had donated $10 or more to their campaigns.
With the total amount of donations from vouchers capped at $75,000 for council candidates and $300,000 for mayoral candidates, the program is expected to cost $1.55 million annually, plus an initial $400,000 in startup costs. The commission previously suggested funding “democracy dollars” from resident electricity bills, but updated its recommendation to propose drawing from the communications and public information budget.
Seattle’s first test of a similar program last year found that it increased political donations from low-income households, young people and people of color. However, the petition requirements tied to receiving the vouchers led one former Seattle council candidate to say he didn’t have time to raise funds and another to be accused of faking donations with her own money. The city faced a lawsuit from homeowners who argued the program forced them to fund political campaigns they didn’t support, but a judge upheld the system.